Tuesday, 24 May 2016

Workers stand to lose out if Britain leaves the EU

The EU debate, thus far, has been dominated by the voices of big business and right wing politicians. The media coverage has been skewed toward these interests with, for example, not one trade union leader or representative of working people given a platform to speak on such programmes as BBC Question Time and Newsnight.

There has already been much heat and a severe lack of light in the debate over whether Britain should leave the European Union.

The referendum starting gun was fired after Prime Minister David Cameron came back from Brussels waving his new deal for Britain in the EU. The deal related little to worker’s rights, focusing instead on protecting the interests of finance capital and cutting migrant’s rights to benefits.

The EU is by no means a perfect construct: undemocratic in many ways, taking sovereignty from member states and doing the will of its neo-liberal masters - it has become big and unwieldy.

All that said, the EU has not just been about business, it has also provided a bulwark for the defence of trade union rights.

Back in 1988, then EU President Jacques Delors argued that the free market must have rules, that Europe must deliver real benefits for workers and that trade unions must have an equal place at the table.

Many of the worker’s rights were contained in what became known as the “Social Chapter”, which John Major’s Government did so much to avoid with its opt out in the early 1990s.

It was only when Labour came to power in 1997 that Britain signed up to the Social Chapter in full. The reticence of successive British governments to embrace the social agenda over the years is something to be born in mind, when assessing whether it is wise to leave worker’s rights totally in the gift of Westminster politicians.  

Among the gains for workers, achieved as a result of the Social Chapter have been the right to 20 days paid annual leave a year, the right not to be forced to work more than 48 hours a week on average, the right to equal treatment for part-time, fixed term and agency workers, the right to high standards of health and safety at work and protection for workers subject to outsourcing or business buyouts.

In terms of equality, the EU has also offered a lead, pushing the right to equal pay and protection from discrimination in the workplace on grounds of sexual orientation, gender reassignment, age and religion or belief.

Women have gained, winning the right to paid time off for anti-natal appointments and protection for pregnant women and new mothers in the workplace. Parents also have the right to 18 weeks parental leave per child.

The TUC estimate that six million workers gained new or enhanced rights to paid holidays due to the EU (2 million of who previously had no annual leave). Some 400,000 part time workers, mostly women, gained improved pay and conditions when equal treatment rights were introduced.

Immigration has been an issue that has figured large in the EU debate. Opponents point to Britain having lost control of its borders with migrant workers coming into the country.

There have been problems with migrant workers being used as a cheap workforce to undermine those already in work in the UK. These problems though can be overcome by implementing minimum standard legislation - not least on pay, terms and conditions. Also, migrant workers need to become trade union members. If all the migrant workers were members of unions then there would not be the capacity for bosses to use this transitory workforce to undermine other workers.

The great illusion of the EU debate, fuelled partly by Cameron, is that migrant workers come to the UK in search of benefits. The reality is that they come here because work is available, not to gain benefits. If the work disappeared, so would most the migrants. According to the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants, migrants contribute 64% more in taxes than they take out in benefits. A study by University College London found that EU migrants made a net contribution of £20 billion to UK finances between 2000 and 2011.  

The biggest tragedy of this whole debate would be if Britain were to sleep walk out of the EU on the back of far right engendered anti-migrant hysteria.

Beyond economic migration, there is the issue of dealing with problems like the refugee crisis engulfing large parts of Europe. Surely, there is a better chance of dealing with the hundreds of thousands of migrants arriving on UK shores together as part of the European block, rather than alone as little England, stranded in northern Europe.

The EU is not perfect by any stretch of the imagination. Critics are right to highlight the dominance of neo-liberal ideology at its heart and the influence of the corporations and banks.

However, surely the way to change things is from within, rather than shouting from outside.

As TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady has pointed out, workers are unlikely to be better off inside the EU. The present Conservative Government, and before it the Coalition, has hardly shown itself the friend of workers. “The current government has already shown its appetite to attack workers’ rights. It’s cut TUPE — protections for workers when their organisation changes hands — for outsourced workers, hiked up tribunal fees and extended the period before which workers can qualify for unfair dismissal claims,” said Frances. “Without the back-up of EU laws, unscrupulous employers will have free rein to cut many of their workers’ hard-won benefits and protections.”

The labour movement needs all the friends it can get in the fight against the ongoing attempts to destroy workers’ rights. Surely standing together with other workers, as part of a reformed European Union, gives a better opportunity to resist the attacks. There is no benefit in cutting ourselves off from a body that could be developed – working within – for the benefit rather than the detriment of workers. The past shows that the EU can provide a bulwark of rights and basic protections for workers that would not otherwise be available – certainly not as part of an isolated UK led by David Cameron or Boris Johnson.

* Isolation would not be splendid - see Tribune, 29/5/2016
Wanstead & Woodford Guardian letters - 26/5/2016

Saturday, 21 May 2016

Good final season for West Ham at the Boleyn but also one of what might have beens

It has been a momentous final season for West Ham United, who will now leave their home of 112 years at the Boleyn ground to start life anew at the Olympic Stadium in August. A new era beckons.
Many though instead of viewing this as a great final season at the old ground might just think it was one that promised much but in the end delivered far less.
At one time, it looked like both a top four finish and FA Cup glory looked on the cards. In the event, having outplayed Manchester United at Old Trafford - losing out in the dying minutes to a dubious equalising goal – the Hammers put up a lack lustre performance in the replay and crashed out to the young hungrier United side.
There was much made of bad refereeing decisions with the howler in the United Cup clash being followed by dubious decisions at Chelsea and Leicester, then at home to Crystal Palace and Arsenal. Yet in the final analysis had West Ham beaten Swansea at home and Stoke away in the final week of the season, they would have finished in the top four Champions League places. Instead, the two defeats saw Southampton leap frog over West Ham, leaving them in a relatively poor seventh. So the 2015/16 season ended up being a season of what might of beens.
On the up side, lets not forget this was a great final season at Upton Park. What is more any feeling of deflation was probably as a result of heightened expectations as a result of how brilliantly the team performed for much of the season.
Remember at the start of the season the doom merchants were predicting that West Ham could struggle, get relegated and enter the Olympic Stadium as a Championship side (but enough of those Tottenham supporters). The board took a bold decision in appointing Slaven Bilic to replace Sam Allardyce.
The appointment proved a brilliant one. Bilic was more popular than Allardyce had ever been, even before a ball was kicked. The brand of football played and the managers passion and wholehearted commitment to the club endeared him to the fans.
The club also recruited excellently last summer. The real coup was signing French international Dimitri Payet, who rapidly became a fans favourite in the mould of Paulo di Canio and Carlos Tevez. Argentinian Manuel Lanzini proved another hit, drawing fewer headlines than Payet but contributing almost as much with some stunning goals and willingness to track back and work (not always a feature of the Frenchman’s repertoire).
Others took longer to make their mark with Angelo Ogbanna eventually securing one of the central defensive births. He though will always be remembered for that last minute injury time winner in the FA Cup replay against Liverpool.
Michail Antonio did not figure until November but when he did get the chance, proved a revelation. Marauding up the right wing with energy to burn, Antonio quickly became a regular on the score sheet. He then transferred to become a makeshift right back, continuing to make the runs and score goals. If England manager Roy Hodgson did not have such a blind spot when it comes to West Ham players, Antonio would surely be in the squad for the European Championships.
Two others who can feel aggrieved at missing out on the European Championships are captain Mark Noble and left back Aaron Creswell – both have been outstanding all season.
Bilic’s astute management also saw him get the best out of Andy Carroll, who netted nine goals in 30 appearances for the club. Notably more than half those appearances were coming off the bench, a role that the manager’s seems to favour for the big man much of the time. Whether Carroll stays and how much of a part he plays next season will depend on a willingness to accept this new quasi role under Bilic.
The season itself began well with wins at Arsenal, Liverpool and Manchester City. Things then got a bit sticky around November into the turn of the year, with the squad hit by injuries. However, the team continued to pick up points, staying in touch with the top four.
Post Christmas, unlike many past West Ham teams this one did not come down with the decorations but came on stronger than before. Injured players returned and with everyone chipping in with goals, some epic encounters ensued. Home wins over Liverpool, Spurs and Manchester United and away at Everton and West Brom among the highlights.
In the end, the team ran out of steam a bit in that final week, much emotion no doubt sapped in the final home game against Manchester United. A fantastic night, West Ham coming back from 2-1 down to win 3-2, then the celebrations stretching into the night, involving most of the surviving players who have played for the club over the years.
Now, West Ham prepare for the Olympic Stadium, the playing pack will no doubt be shuffled over the summer - with some new faces coming in and a few going out. Notably, Bilic recently declared that seven or eight of the successful under 21 side will be featuring with the first team or be put out on loan next season. The advance of Reece Oxford, who made his full Premiership debut against Arsenal at the tender age of 16, was another of the highlights of the season. Others look sure to follow Oxford into the first team.
So as the gates of the Boleyn ground close for the final time, it is a good time to be a Hammers fan. The Olympic stadium beckons, with a team destined to be regular top four contenders, if the progress started this season continues going forward.

Thursday, 19 May 2016

Time that City of London Corporation addressed depleting water system of Wanstead Park

What a sight Wanstead Park has been over recent weeks, with the bluebells in full bloom and nesting birds dwelling amongst resplendent trees. A true jewel in the green ecological crown of east London.
Yet amid the natural glory, the infrastructure of this great park continues to creak. Despite the reassurances of the City of London Corporation back in January that the problems of the water draining away from the lakes was being dealt with, nothing appears to have happened. Both the Ornamental and Heronry lakes continue to empty water at an alarming rate.
Is it not time that the City of London got its act together on the question of the water system of the park. When first created in the 18th century, the water system was expertly balanced so that one lake drained into the other and so on, retaining levels of water across the park. Now, come forward to the present day, we find this system has been totally neglected to the point where it is on the point of irrevocable breakdown.
The inadequacy of the stewardship of the park waterways was duly noted back in 2009, when English Heritage put Wanstead Park on its at risk register. Seven years later the park remains on the register, the problems of the waterways continue to deteriorate.
Why do the City of London Corporation not address these problems?  As noted at the start, Wanstead Park is a wonderful ecological oasis, for which we must all be grateful. The worrying thing is the run down state that parts of the park are starting to get into. Fixing the water system, clearing pathways and reinstalling access points like the Jubilee Bridge from Ilford should not be beyond the custodians. These moves do not require huge amounts of money or logistic expertise, so come on City of London put your hands in those very deep institutional pockets and sort out the problems of our great park. 

published Wanstead & Woodford Guardian / Ilford Recorder - 19/5/2016

Wednesday, 11 May 2016

An epic night brings down the curtain on 112 years of football at the Boleyn Ground for West Ham United

West Ham 3-2 Manchester United

A night of high drama was expected for the final game that would bring down the curtain on the Boleyn ground after 112 years - and no one was disappointed.

The drama began off the field, with the Manchester United coach attacked outside the ground. The result was a 45 minute delay to the kick off.

Manchester United manager Louis Van Gaal refused to blame the problems outside for his team’s result, restricting his comments to highlighting how “the images make it clear” what happened.

West Ham have announced that there will be lifetime bans issued for those involved in the trouble.

When the game finally began, West Ham dominated, taking the lead in the 10th minute, when Diafra Sakho guided in a Manuel Lanzini pass from the edge of the penalty area.

West Ham had chances to extend their lead before half time, the most notable being when Andy Carroll was put clean through by Dimitri Payet, only to see the advancing David De Gea block with his legs.

There were further chances for Lanzini and Payet but both were spurned.

It then looked like the exit from the Boleyn was going to be ruined by the visitors as the pacy Anthony Martial struck twice in the 50th and 71st minutes to put United in front.

However, West Ham were not to be denied, with first Michail Antonio rising to head home a Payet cross, then Winston Reid heading home another cross from the Frenchman.

There were some further unsavoury moments, when bottles were thrown from the crowd at De Gea and one fan got onto the pitch to confront the Spaniard, before being dragged away.

Van Gaal conceded that the emotion of the night had an effect but he refused to make excuses. “We can still pass over Manchester City (4th in the table) in the last game of the season,” said Van Gaal.

West Ham manager Slaven Bilic was rather overcome with emotion, declaring it “a great night that made history.”

West Ham now go to Stoke on Sunday for the last game needing to win to guarantee sixth place and Europa League football next season.

After the game, the fans did abide by the wishes of the club’s owners, not to invade the pitch. There then followed a long celebration, with fireworks and memories of past great days down the years at the ground. Former players were paraded in black cabs, with the likes of Trevor Brooking and Paulo di Canio interviewed about past great moments.  

Saturday, 7 May 2016

Blatant media bias against Jeremy Corbyn obscures the real story which is the disintegration of the Tory government

The unified opposition, amongst the Labour right and its supporting cast across media outlets, to the leadership of Jerermy Corbyn has never been clearer than over the past 10 days of the run up to local and assembly elections across Britain.

First, came the anti-semitism slur. A proper journalist would have asked questions like why was the story about Labour MP Naz Shah’s Israel comments suddenly revived two years after it happened - just before the elections. Could it have had something to do with an attempt to destabilise the Corbyn leadership, thereby prefacing electoral disaster, thereby creating the platform for a coup? The comments made by Ken Livingstone did not help, feeding the frenzy and making the story much larger than it might otherwise have been.

Then there is the question of the strangely suppressed story  about 27 Tory Mps under investigation by the police for expenses irregularities in relation to the general election last year. The story is now beginning to surface but why was it held over until after the election results?

Then there has been the coverage of the election results, which reflected pretty positively on the first eight months of Corbyn’s leadership. The London mayorality won, council seats held in England, control retained in Wales and some losses in Scotland.

The real story in Scotland was about the SNP losing its majority and the advance of the Tories north of the border. Instead, much media coverage did the whole Scottish story in the context of the demise of Labour, something that began long before Corbyn became leader and will take sometime to arrest.

The ongoing conspiracy between some journalists and the Blairite right of the Labour Party (often indistinguishable) was again evident, with any dissenting voice against Corbyn given air time or print space. So there was Jo Cox offering her criticisms to anyone willing to listen.

 Yet despite all of this media led opprobrium thrown in the direction of the leadership, Corbyn has emerged stronger from these elections. The would-be coup plotters have been defeated, with the grass roots support, if anything stronger. The point seems to have been reached where the media bias is becoming so blatant that it is tending to build the solidarity within the movement. Who knows maybe some journalists will start to get the point and focus on some of the real achievements of the Corbyn led Labour Party of the last eight months.
The election results top successes that also include forcing the government to retreat on cutting tax credits, disability benefit cuts, forcing schools to become acadamies and time changes on Sunday trading.
The real political story out there for journalists with eyes to see is the disintegration of this Tory government. It has moved from the arrogant swaggering of a year ago to a point where the U-turn has become the default position on policy. The opposition of Labour together with the SNP, Greens, Lib Dems and growing numbers of the Tory Party itself is making life resemble the darkest days of the Major administration of the 1990s. The referendum debate is tearing the Tories apart, something that will continue in one direction or other whatever the decision made on 23rd of June. This is the story that the media should be focusing on, not the seemingly wilfull efforts to destabilise Jeremy Corbyn.

*published Morning Star - 14/5/2016 - "Don't mention the Tory meltdown"

Thursday, 5 May 2016

And the Weak Suffer What They Must by Yanis Varoufakis

The former Greek finance minister plots the formation of the EU, the creation of the ill-fated euro and how the situation can be saved.

A difficult subject to convey in all its complexity Varoufakis manages to reduce often complex economic constructs down into terms that everyone can understand. One example is how he draws a parallel between the Minotaur of Greek mythology – an animal that had to be fed human flesh every week to the US economy, post 1971. It was then that the Nixon administration delinked the dollar from gold underpinning it, moving exchange rates from a fixed to floating status.

Under the guidance of Federal Reserve chairman Paul Volcker, the US then hyped up interest rates, bringing in currency from across the world. This became the Minotaur, needing to be fed regularly. The excesses of money flowing in also helped spawn the financialisation products that helped build the crisis that erupted in 2008.

The book is particularly timely, coming at a time when this country debates, whether to stay in of leave the EU. Much of the devastating critique would cause many to think Brexit is the only answer but in the final analysis, Varoufakis advocates staying in to bring about the change needed to create an EU that will work for the mass of people rather than the financiers of Europe.

The history as to how the EU was created, offers some fascinating insights. The role of the US, when as far back as the Kennedy administration of the early 1960s, it urged that Britain should be part of the construct. At that time, French President General DeGaulle represented the sticking point. America has down the years seen Britain as its place man in the EU. Given this history, the recent intervention of President Obama in favour of Britain remaining in becomes all the more understandable.

Varoufakis lays out how populations across the EU have been made to pay for the banking crisis with private bank debts effectively taken over by governments and becoming the responsibilities of tax payers. He tells how the Greek crisis was really all about serving German and French banks.  In the case of Greece itself he chronicles how the left wing government of Alexis Tsipras just could not win. The leading powers in the EU, notably the Germans, were just determined to make an example of Greece as a lesson to others who could go down the same path.

The former Greek minister also clearly outlines the warnings from the past of following the present path, which enforces severe hardship on populations across Europe. The result has in the past led to the advance of fascist forces. Most prominent among these today has been Golden Dawn in Greece.

There are regular references throughout the book as to how the past history of Europe under the Nazis could come to pass again. He chronicles how the way the EU has operated since the Maastricht treaty in 1992 has parallels with effect of the Versailles Treaty post Second World War in bringing the forces of darkness to the fore.

Varoufakis has little time for those in power at the moment, whose policies he believes could bring the whole world crashing down again if not changed. He believes that a more political federal structure needs to come in, bringing democratic accountability to peoples across Europe. At present, Varoufakis sees the drift toward authoritarianism becoming almost inevitable as it is being driven by unelected bureaucrats following a failed formula. This book is an excellent read, giving insight, warnings and a vision as to what can be done to right the present disastrous situation.  
Published by Bodley Head, £16.99

Review published Morning Star - 23/5/2016 Varoufakis attacks the monster of neo-liberalism

Monday, 2 May 2016

If Blairite right of the Labour Party cannot work under Jeremy Corbyn they should leave and form the Progressive Social Democrats

The aim of the right wing Labour Party dissidents seems to be to undermine the Corbyn leadership, thereby ensuring poor election results, so providing the platform for a coup.

The tactics run against the will of the thousands of Labour Party members who elected Corbyn last September. It is also a disgraceful undermining of those Labour Party members out knocking on doors to secure victory on Thursday.

Surely, post election there has to be some sort of reckoning - the party cannot go on with this simmering civil war. Either these right wing blairites should buckle down under Corbyn's leadership or leave. They could start their own party, maybe call it the Progressive Social Democrats?